Monday, March 23, 2009

It's not about Location... duh!

If I had a dollar for every time someone mentioned foursquare during a panel or keynote at SXSWi last week I would be super... Ok, maybe I'd have about 60 dollars. Which is a lot considering I only attended about 6 sessions in all (bah... and missed out on the "panel nerd" badge as a result... whaa!).

The point is that Foursquare's debut at SXSWi was simply put, a success. We all loved it and continue to love it!

The irony is that it is about the millionth LBS application to see the light of day. Worse yet, many of the check-ins were likely done over SMS given AT&T's stellar performance during the conference. Worse yet... it is a resurrection of Dodgeball.

The reality is that the majority of Foursquare's new fan base has tried many of its precursors (from the mobile operators' friend finders, to Loopt, to Dodgeball, to Brightkite). This explains how easily we adopted it - Yes, we got it. But the thing is that not only did we start using it right away without the need for a step by step explanation of why and how to use it, but we also could not stop ourselves. This never happened with any of Foursquare's predecesors.

So at last someone seems to have finally gotten it right.

First it's fun -

Foursquare is unique in that it turns the potentially cumbersome task of providing your location into something you actually want to, cannot wait to do. Why? Because it is a game! And as with games you earn points, you compete, you win prizes (badges), you get to PWN your friends by becoming "the mayor" of a bar. Next thing you know you can't stop yourself. Next thing you know you catch yourself having horrible dark thoughts about checking into a place you're not even at!

Second, it's useful -

Much like what Yelp, Rateitall, or Google Maps could do, foursquare gives you location based recommendations. The beauty of these recommendations from a contextual and cost perspectives is that they have been provided by the user community. What is even more beautiful is that from a monetization perspective this could be a very valuable capability. For years companies like Cellfire have been toiling with this concept. But again, what was missing was the fun part.

Back in September I summarized this teen survey which concluded with the very astonishing revelation that (gasp! OMG) generation-m did not care for friend-finder applications. I guess we'll just have to see if they change their mind once they PLAY foursquare.

Friday, March 20, 2009

63MM Mobile Web users in the U.S.

This comscore summary just came out this week. Here's a short recap:

* Number of Mobile Web users in the US is now 63MM (up from 40MM in mid last year)
* Fastest growing segment is still Social Networking (bundled w/ blogging)
* The majority of phones surfing the mobile web are still Feature (low end) phones (70%)

Other January stats:

* 22.3 MM users accessed info via a downloaded application
* 32.4 MM users accessed info via SMS

Is SMS dead?

Two weeks ago Google shut off its free SMS platform to 3rd parties (the one that powered Infinite SMS on the iphone). Days earlier Google had also shut down Dodgeball, the SMS powered location based social app. One might conclude from this that the services were unpopular. Instead, the real problem was just the opposite; and the fact that Google was paying for each tiny message.

Unfortunately, unlike with most technologies, when it comes to SMS the marginal costs do not necessarily shrink with higher usage. This economic problem is caused by the operators (outside of the US) and SMS aggregators (in the US) who can afford to demand applications to pay a price for reaching their subscribers.

With the rise of new open platforms the current SMS model will begin to deteriorate. Platforms such as the iPhone are paving the way for other means to reach users without having to pay a toll to the operator or aggregators. Another important trend is the growing popularity of flat data plans. These are gradually being adopted and marketed by operators to expand their more advanced premium services and content (ah, the irony).

But getting real... there is still a long way to go.

Today SMS is still the optimal way to reach a really wide mobile audience. In the US for example, mobile users with data plans who are able to reach their favorite applications via mobile web are just about 60 million. In contrast, almost all mobile users (over 200 million of them) can be reached via SMS. This gap is even greater in emerging markets, where Mobile Web penetration can be as low as 3%, while SMS is over 90%.

So to answer the question... it's getting closer and closer, but it has a long while to go.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spoofing the iPhone using Firefox

For any of you kids out there wishing to hit a server with Firefox as if using an iPhone here's something that might come in handy.

Install this Firefox add-on:

After you install the add-on:

Go to Tools in your browser
Select User Agent Switcher
Select Options
Select Options again
Select User Agents
Click on the Add button

Enter the following information in the box:

Description: iPhone
User Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en)
App Name: AppleWebKit/420+ (KHTML, like Gecko)
App Version: Version/3.0
Platform: Mobile/1A543 Safari/419.3

Once you store the information you will be able to select iPhone from the User Agent Switcher under tools.

No abusing though...

Monday, March 16, 2009

SxSWi: major FAIL for AT&T

With hundreds of influential members of the tech and first adopter communities congregated at SXSWi, one would have expected the operator to step it up at least just enough to provide the same level of service its subscribers are accustomed to. During the past few days making a call using an iPhone has been pretty much impossible. The odds of getting a data connection on an iPhone have been lower than 30%. Even texting has become a challenge for the frustrated iPhone enthusiasts.

Operators can provide extra capacity to a network in an hour's notice. Forget doing any out of the ordinary network performance optimization or installation of additional hardware. There do exist so called mobile cell sites. These consist of scaled down versions of network centers antennas and all, hosted in fully conditioned trailers that can be easily mobilized and sent to areas where an operator may not necessarily want to add permanent capacity.

But one day away from the end of Interactive and here at the Austin Convention Center it feels as if AT&T couldn't care less about the loyal iPhone lovers. Only time will tell if this will in any way affect the nework or the phone's sales.

In the mean time, if you too are a frustrated iPhone owner you can voice your frustrations at

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Going Mobile the Easy Way

You can build your mobile web site, iphone application, and what not... But at the end of the day in order to reach the masses you will still need SMS.

The bad news is that it is a royal pain in the a##. In the US you are looking to pay a monthly fee for your shortcode (~1K), plus an aggregator set up fee (~2K+), and if you want your users not to pay a premium fee to stay connected, you have to pay for the messages yourself (anywhere from 2 - 5 cents per message). You can also expect anywhere from 2 to 3 months before the operators approve your campaing.

There are a few answers to this problem:

One way is to charge your users. Don't expect the majority to sign up for your service, though.

You can also subsidize via text based advertising. The problem is that there aren't enough advertisers who are pumping cash into this form of advertising yet. Companies that you can connect to are 4INFO or Textmarks.

The solution: outsource your integration and DON'T try to build it yourself! A few companies have already have gone through the troubles described above and expose API's that should make it easy for you to integrate. One such company is Unwired Nation. Some of Unwired Nation's customers boast a 3-4 week time period to get up and running. Other successful companies such as 3jam have gone through this trouble at a global scale. They might just be willing to allow your company to integrate into their network and leverage their relationships with aggregators and operators all over the globe.